For my 40th birthday, I went to the Burger Bar in Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. I wasn’t in Vegas for some exciting trip across the country to celebrate a milestone birthday. I was, improbably, living there at the time. I moved there during the summer of 2007 for a job opportunity and turned 40 the following February.
I have never had a tendency to make a big deal out of decade birthdays. Turning 40 was not substantially different than being 39. But my then wife suggested a celebratory outing and arranged dinner with a few of my new co-workers and some guy she had become friends with online who I had never met before that night and who, to the best of my recollection, never saw again.
I do not remember what I had done for my 30th birthday. At one point in my adult life, I began keeping my yearly calendars, but, alas, I started this habit the year I turned 31 so have no record of my activities for my 30th birthday.
According to that calendar, my 31st was celebrated in my typical low-key style. One night, my ex and I went to Cafette, a favorite place in Chestnut Hill which closed shortly after I moved back to Philadelphia after my four-year Vegas experience. Another night, I went to dinner with my family at Moonstruck, an Italian restaurant near where I grew up that is still going strong. Most likely, it would have been the location of a family get-together for my birthday under usual circumstances.
But circumstances are not normal or are transitioning to a new normal.
Despite being a particularly portentous milestone birthday, my 50th looks like it will again be low-key if not a bit somber because my mother passed away unexpectedly at the end of 2017 (December 29th to be exact). It’s disheartening to think she is not around to help celebrate the big day. My father passed away in 2011 so I enter my fifties an orphan.
That’s not to say I won’t be doing anything. Last weekend, Holly and I had dinner with a friend at The Victor Cafe, a location that seems to be becoming a birthday tradition. It’s an Italian restaurant wherein all of the waitstaff are also opera singers. Every 20 minutes or so, there is a pause in the action as one of the waitstaff launches into song. It’s always a great experience, not only because of the singing but also because the food is excellent.
This coming weekend, Holly will be making a special birthday dinner. And we have reservations at Vetri Cucina with my brother. We have been interested in going there ever since moving to Philadelphia in 2011, but it is pricey so we have been waiting for a special occasion. Turning 50 seems like a fabulous reason for a big night out. Because reservations there are a bit hard to come by, we won’t be going until early April, which is fine since we won’t have to worry about any winter weather, and it gives us something exciting to look forward to. Not related to my birthday, but I am also very excited about another California trip this summer.
As I mentioned, I have never put a lot of stock in milestone birthdays, but 50 feels significant. I’ve been on this planet for half a century. Lyndon B. Johnson was president when I was born. It was the year Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and the year Valerie Solanas tried to kill Andy Warhol.
It was the year of the Beatles’ White Album came out, and the year that Led Zeppelin, Rush, and Yes formed. It was the year of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes. It was also the year of the first interracial kiss on television.
At the beginning of this year, The Atlantic posted an interesting article (1968 and the Making of Modern America) and a fascinating photo set (50 Years Ago in Photos: A Look Back at 1968) if you want to get a better sense of what a different world 1968 was.
I pre-date the moon landing, Watergate, Roe vs. Wade, and have lived more of my life without the Internet than with it.
I have been working in libraries half my life and am thankful that I found a career that has helping people at its core and has given me the opportunity to be engaged with a broader professional community. I have had the opportunity to participate in conferences and workshops all over the country.
I am thankful I am divorced and childless for reasons too complex to go into here.
I am thankful I am now with someone I call my “Perfect Partner.”
I am thankful that I went on my four-year Vegas adventure, not only for the experience of living somewhere different but also because it helped expose just how problematic my prior relationship was and because it helped lead me to Holly. I am also thankful that the experience gave me the chance to spend a lot of time in California, which I think of more as a second home than I ever did of Vegas.
I am thankful that Holly and I were able to end the long-distance part of our relationship and were able to find a way to live together. I am thankful that the place we ended up has been Philadelphia. We have been able to spend time with my family which has been particularly important given our recent sad news. I am thankful that I am living the type of city life I always hoped to, but I am also thankful knowing that I will be happy wherever we end up as long as we are together.
I am thankful that I have been developed hobbies that I really enjoy and, in recent years, have had the time and support to engage in them more fully. I am thankful that my persistence with one of those hobbies, writing, has led me to get some things published.
I am thankful that I am entering my second half-century in reasonably good health.
So, here’s to another 50 years, or, at least, maybe another 25 good ones.